Brief History of American Political Sex Scandals


The latest news on the sex scandal that is engulfing presidential hopeful Herman Cain is that the former Godfather’s Pizza mogul is “reassessing” his run for the Republican nomination.

The newest charge, which has followed allegations from three women who say they were sexually harassed by Cain, is one from a woman who claims to have carried on a 13 year affair with him.

The allegations have taken a toll on Cain, who is slipping in the polls, with support rising for the once dead-in-the-water candidate Newt Gingrich. Cain, of course, isn’t the first politician to be taken down by a sex scandal.

Cain has denied the charges and might be completely innocent, but there is quite a lengthy history of powerful men getting in trouble for chasing skirts.


Alexander Hamilton, who you can find on the ten dollar bill providing you still have one in the Obama economy, was the first American politician to get caught up in a bona fide sex scandal by his involvement with Marie Reynolds, a 23 year-old married woman.

The affair went on for three years, with full knowledge of Marie’s husband, James Reynolds, who made Hamilton pay blackmail money to keep quiet.

The whole story came out when James was caught up in a speculation scheme with money that was supposed to go to American Revolutionary War Veterans. Hamilton, who was Secretary of the Treasury, had to reveal his trysts with Marie amidst allegations that he was involved in the speculations, but the whole thing was kept quiet until the information made its way to political rival Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson passed the information along to newspaper man James Callender who printed the story to keep Hamilton from the presidency.

Jefferson’s involvement with Callender would eventually come back to haunt him, after he became president, when the newsmonger ran stories that the Sage of Monticello had fathered children with slave Sally Hemings. Callender was upset with Jefferson for not giving him the job of Post Master General of Richmond, Virginia.  Jefferson wouldn’t even dignified the charge, but DNA evidence has been reviewed in recent years that shows someone in Jefferson’s family fathered Sally’s children.

Since there were lots of Jefferson’s hanging around Monticello at that time, it still isn’t certain who was really Sally’s babies’ daddy. The controversy continues to this day. If you want to read the whole story about the Hamilton and Jefferson sex scandals, check out the book Scandalmonger by the late William Safire. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The second political sex scandal of note was Andrew Jackson’s “Petticoat Affair”, which didn’t involve indiscretion from Jackson, rather innuendo involving a cabinet member, Secretary of War John Henry Eaton. Eaton had been friends with Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale, an attractive married woman with a dubious reputation whose father was a boarding  house owner that served as a hot social spot for many politicos of the day.

Shortly after Peggy’s husband died, the two were married and rumors ran rampant. Things got so bad that an “anti-Peggy” collation was formed, headed by the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun. The Eaton’s were shunned from Washington society and things got so bad that it lead to the resignation of almost every member of Jackson’s cabinet.

Jackson stood by the Eaton’s, probably because he had earlier been involved in something of a sex scandal involving his late wife, Rachel. Rachel’s first marriage had not been legally ended when she married Jackson. Jackson had felt the gossip that surrounded he and his wife during his run for the presidency had led to his wife’s death.

Anyway, the Petticoat Affair, as mild as it might seem by today’s standard, caused Jackson a bevy of political woes in the 1830’s.


The most shocking political scandal of all-time, topping even the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, was the Grover Cleveland rape and cover up, in which the mother of his child was sent to an insane asylum.

It seem that Cleveland, in 1873 years before becoming a non-consecutive  two term president, date raped a sales clerk named Maria Haplin. When she became pregnant and had his child, Cleveland arranged to have his son taken from her and put into an orphanage and had her confined to a nut house.

It was determined that she wasn’t crazy and she was released. The story came out when Cleveland ran for president, so he just let loose his PR machine to smear her as a drunk and whore. And you thought today’s politicians were smarmy.



Jumping up to modern times, we have the Gary Hart affair. Hart, a former senator from Colorado, was well on this way to the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until he was thrown a monkey wrench for his monkey business with model Donna Rice. Hart denied allegations of his extra-marital affair with Rice until pictures surfaced of her on his lap aboard his yacht, The Monkey Business. That’s when he serious started—like Cain—reassessing his chances and got out.


Other names in the Political Hall of Horndogs include luminaries like Barney Frank, Gary Condit, Larry Craig, Chris Lee, John Ensign and, of course, Anthony Weiner.





And there is a special room that’s reserved for former Gropper-In-Chief Bill Clinton.



A Louisiana blog would be amiss without a mention of Sen. David Vitter. Vitter walks a pretty straight line on policy, but wished he would have never have been caught spending time with New Orleans street-walkers.



So, while Cain’s political life might soon be over, his scandal is just the latest chapter in a story that goes back as long as we have been a country.
I don’t think he will take any pride in that knowledge, especially with pictures like this still in vivid memory. Somethings you just can’t unsee.



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